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Title: Our Caughnawagas in Egypt
       a narrative of what was seen and accomplished by the
       contingent of North American Indian voyageurs who led the
       British boat Expedition for the Relief of Khartoum up the
       Cataracts of the Nile.

Author: Louis Jackson

Commentator: T. S. Brown

Release Date: June 27, 2010 [EBook #32995]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by Peter Vickers and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)

 A narrative of what was seen and
 accomplished by the Contingent
 of North American Indian Voyageurs
 who led the British Boat
 Expedition for the Relief
 the Cataracts of
 the NILE.




 With an introductory Preface
 By T. S. BROWN, Esq.


 Entered according to Act of Parliament, in the year one thousand
 eight hundred and eighty-five


 in the Office of the Minister of Agriculture and Statistics at Ottawa.

[Illustration: LOUIS JACKSON, Captain of the Contingent.]


The Indians of Caughnawaga are an offshoot from the Mohawks, one of the
divisions of the Six Nations, formerly in pseudo occupation of western
New York, and known to the French by the general name of Iroquois. Long
before the cession of this Province to Great Britain, they were settled
at the head of the rapids of the St. Lawrence opposite Lachine, on a
tract of land ten miles square, or 64,000 acres held in common, but
lately separated into lots to be divided among the people as individual

Contrary to what has been the too common fate of aborigines brought into
close contact with foreigners, the Caughnawagas, with some mixture of
white blood, have maintained throughout, their Indian customs, manners
and language, with the manhood of their ancestors, in an alertness,
strength and power of endurance where-ever these qualities have been
required: in the boating or rafting on our larger rivers and the
hardships of _Voyageurs_ in the North-West.

As a high tribute to this known excellence, the call for Canadian
_Voyageurs_ to assist in the boat navigation of the Nile was accompanied
by a special requirement that there should be a contingent of fifty
Caughnawagas. They responded quickly to the call, performed the task
committed to them in a manner most satisfactory as described in these
pages, and returned to their homes at the end of six months, after a
voyage of more than 12,000 miles, sound and resolute as when they
started, with the loss of but two men.

There is something unique in the idea of the aborigines of the New World
being sent for to teach the Egyptians how to pass the Cataracts of the
Nile, which has been navigated in some way by them for thousands of
years, that should make this little book attractive to all readers,
especially as it is written by one born and bred in Caughnawaga, who,
with the quick eye of an Indian, has noticed many things unnoticed by
ordinary tourists and travellers.

It is written in a most excellent spirit that might wisely be imitated
by other travellers. The writer finds no faults, blames nobody, and
always content, is generous in his acknowledgments for every act of
kindness and proper consideration shown to him and his party, by Her
Majesty's Officers of all ranks in command of the expedition. It was
written off-hand and goes forth to the public as it came from the pen of
the writer, to be judged in its style and the matter contained, by no
standard but its own.

MONTREAL, April, 1885.


When it was made known by Lord Melgund in the early part of September,
1884, that it was the express desire of General Lord Wolseley to have
Caughnawaga Indians form part of the Canadian Contingent, the required
number was soon obtained, in spite of discouraging talk and groundless
fears. Having been introduced to Lord Melgund, I agreed to go and look
after the Caughnawaga boys, although then busily engaged in securing my
crops. I, with a number of others reached the "Ocean King" at Quebec,
having been left behind in Montreal through incorrect information given
me by one of the ship's officers as to the time of sailing. We received
the farewell of the Governor General on board the "Ocean King," and His
Excellency's very kind words had an especially encouraging effect upon
my boys.

On reaching Sidney, B. C., and while taking in coal, some funny tricks
were played by voyageurs which I must not omit. To get ashore in spite
of the officers who kept watch on the wharf, some daring fellows jumped
from the vessel's rigging into the empty coal cars returning to the
wharf, coming back in the dark and the vessel being a few feet off the
wharf, the men had to climb aboard by a rope. Now it happened, that of
two friends, one was able to get up, the other was not, neither could
his friend help him, they however, contrived a plan, which they carried
out to perfection. The one on the wharf laid quietly down, while his
friend climbed aboard and there informed our officers that a man had
hurt himself by falling off the coal shoot, immediately there was great
alarm, lamps were hung over the side and the man discovered by his
clothes to be one of the voyageurs, a plank was shoved out over the
ship's rail, standing nearly upright and a line hove, (some suggested to
put the line around his neck.) However, he was hoisted aboard and
carried towards the cabin. While being carried, the apparently lifeless
one was seen to open his eyes three or four times, but too many hands
evidently had hold of him and so he was brought before the doctor, who
eagerly examined him, but soon pronounced him dead, "dead drunk" and
ordered him to be taken to his bunk, where he soon sat up laughing and
feeling good, to escape so easily.

On arriving in Alexandria, after a fine passage and good treatment we
saw our boats, which at the first sight and from a distance, were
condemned by the boys, but later experience changed our first

We left the wharf at Alexandria on the 8th of October, at 11 a. m. by
train. The first-class carriages were after the English style, but the
troop cars in which we were transported were less comfortable, they had
four benches placed fore and aft, two in the centre back to back and one
on each side with back to outside, lacking the usual conveniences of our
Canadian cars. The sides of the car were about four feet high, then open
to the roof. We were fifty-six in a car which made it uncomfortably
crowded. After leaving Alexandria I was surprised to see people
standing up to their necks in the swamps, cutting some kind of grass. I
saw also cattle lying perfectly still in the water with just their heads
out. This sight scared my boys as to what the heat would be further
south. Beyond the swamps on the east side of the road I saw nice
gardens, and, what was still more interesting, groves of palm trees with
fruit. After two hours' ride we reached the desert, where nothing but
sand was to be seen. The whistle went all the time to warn camel
drivers, who also use the roadbed, and I did not see any other road for
them to travel. Another curiosity was the protective fencing for the
road, made of cornstalks to keep back the sand, as we make board fences
against the snow. At all the stations, which were far apart, all hands
rushed out for a drink of water. We did not meet many trains. During the
afternoon we came close to the Nile, which there appeared to be about
the same width as the St. Lawrence opposite Caughnawaga. We soon reached
a regular Egyptian settlement, with people living in small mud huts, and
with chickens, goats, sheep and dogs coming out with the children. The
ground appeared to be clay and in the road every three or four feet
there was a rat hole and rats dodging in all directions. I saw more rats
at a glance than I had ever seen before in all my life. We also saw some
ship yards with some boats on the stocks and some on the mud. The boats
were about twenty feet long, and one afloat appeared to be wood to
within about four inches above water with gunwales of mud and a peculiar

The gunwales were three or four feet high and five or six inches thick.
They appeared to be baked hard by the sun, and were water proof, as I
afterwards saw several of them loaded so heavily that a great part of
the mud gunwales were under water. I suppose mud is used in preference
to wood, because wood is very scarce in Egypt and mud is very plentiful.
They make the most of the mud which the Nile brings down in such
quantities every year. They build houses with it as well as boats and it
is this mud which manures and fertilizes the whole land of Egypt.

We soon sighted the pyramids and came to Bulac Station three miles from
Cairo at 7 o'clock. It being dark, supper was served which we took into
the cars, it consisted of canned meat, bread and tea. We left at eight
for Assiout. The sand became very troublesome entering the open cars and
I concluded as we were travelling through the night to give my eyes a
rest and went to sleep sitting up. Next morning at eight o'clock we
reached Assiout about 240 miles from Alexandria, there we saw some
Nubian prisoners, black, ugly and desperate looking fellows chained
together with large rusty chains round their necks. They were sitting on
the ground. We were marched about a quarter of a mile to the river,
where there were fleets of steamers and barges, one fleet waiting for
us. We were marched on board two barges tied together and after washing
about half an inch of mud off our faces with Nile river water, went to
breakfast prepared by our own cooks who had left Alexandria twelve hours
in advance. After breakfast I went ashore, I noticed in one little mud
hut, goats, sheep, dogs and children on the ground and there were
flies in the children's faces and eyes beyond description. I got my
first near view of a date tree here with its rough bark which I cut with
my knife.

[Illustration: THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZEH.]

[Illustration: THE GREAT SPHINX.]

The next sight was a ship yard where four or five whip saws were kept
going; their whip saw is rigged like a bucksaw only the saw instead of
the stick, is in the centre. There is a stick on each side of the saw
and a string outside each stick. They had to back the saw the whole
length of the wood to get it out. Messrs. Cook and Son the great tourist
agents had just commenced to build a large hotel, which when returning
home I found already finished. I noticed a sign over a mud house door
"Egyptian Bank." A track runs from the depot straight down to the river
and there were a number of flat cars loaded with boats, of which I took
a nearer look, I also saw oars and poles. I was well pleased with all
and at the same time made up my mind, that we had carried paddles across
the ocean for very little use. I asked permission to go and see the
catacombs, but was told that we must get under way. I received for my
men cooking utensils, such as kettles, tin-plates, knives, forks and
spoons, for the whole campaign, which I delivered up again, when
returning. We started at 11 a. m., the fleet consisting of two barges
side by side in tow of a side-wheel steamer. At the stern of each barge
a trough, built of mud bricks, formed the cooking range, and it amused
me to see that they had put on about half a cord of wood for cooking
purposes, to last during the trip to Assouan, (twelve days) and this at
once impressed me with the difference between the value of fuel in this
country and in our own. There were thirteen gangs with their foremen on
the barges and three gangs with foremen on the steamer. We found the
Nile river water of good taste but muddy and we generally left it
standing for an hour to settle. A funny sight was presented by a cow and
a small camel harnessed to a plough. A stick crooked suitably by nature
was laid over both necks and tied round each and a native rope was run
from the yoke to a stick, also crooked to suit the purpose by nature,
used as plough, scratching about two inches deep and three inches wide,
at a speed as I judged of one acre per week. Another unusual thing was
to see the crops in several stages of growth at the same time in
adjoining patches, from sowing to quarter grown, half grown and ripe
crops. This is one of the consequences of the Nubians depending upon the
overflow of the Nile to fertilize their soil. Directly the river begins
to fall they commence to sow their seed in the mud, it leaves behind,
and as the water recedes they follow it up with the sowing. The crop
farthest from the river of course gets the start.

[Illustration: A DAHABEAH.]


The next novel sight was the irrigation of the fields. To lift the water
from the river, a frame is made by putting some cornstalks into the
ground and putting clay round them to make posts, which are placed about
six feet apart; the posts support a small stick, across which is laid a
crooked pole, with about a dozen bends in it, that balances a mud basket
on one end against a leather bucket on the other. The bucket holds about
as much as our common well bucket, a man is continually filling from the
river and emptying into a mud spout between the posts. The water is
led off in a small mud conduit over the farm which is divided into
sections, when one section is filled with water the stream is turned
into another one. These waterworks are kept going day and night. Once in
a while one may see cattle power used for irrigation of the following
old fashioned kind, the yoke is hitched to a primitive cog-wheel of
about twelve feet in diameter, which works into a smaller wheel placed
underneath it, the cattle walking over a bridge. The cogs are simply
pins driven into the outside of each wheel. The shaft of the smaller
wheel runs out over a ditch cut from the river and carries a large reel
about eighteen feet in diameter over which two native ropes are laid to
which are attached about forty earthen jars. The cattle here are about
the same size as ours, but they have a lump on their back and their
horns run straight back. The colour of most of these cattle is blueish.
Where the fertile strip of land is wide, canals are dug in curves to
bring the water back near, to the sand mountains. The cattle feed along
the river bank, which is left uncultivated for about twenty feet from
the water, and I have seen a number of them of all kinds, feeding on
this poor strip and never touch the rich crops alongside, although left
to themselves and I was told that they were taught that way. The sheep
look like dogs dragging long tails on the ground and the dogs look much
like the Esquimaux dogs I have seen in Manitoba.

After seven or eight days travel we left the sand mountains and began to
see rock on both sides, more particularly on the east bank the rock
looked to me like plaster of Paris. The natives quarried it and loaded
it into small dibeers. "Dibeers" are sailing crafts with a small cabin
aft, whilst, "Nuggars" are plain barges, with a very peculiar sail, the
boom of which is rolled into the sail by way of furling the latter. I
heard one blast go off and this being Sunday, the 19th October, I made
up my mind that the people here have no Sundays. We passed some ruins on
both shores, some appeared to be cut into the solid rock, which here is
of a brownish colour. I could not tell what kind of rock but the courses
varied from four to twenty feet as seen between the temples and they
laid very even. The perpendicular seams were perfectly straight. The
temples all faced the river. We also passed some immense figures, some
standing, some sitting on chairs, some looking towards the river, some
showing their profile, the highest of these I judged to be 60 feet high.
It was a pity that we could not get the slightest information from the
Egyptian crew with us, who seemed very averse to us, so much so, that I
could not even learn their names far less any of their language. About
this time some of the boys gave out that we would be shown the exact
spot, where Moses was picked up, but nobody knew exactly. Our fleet did
not run at nights, and it always happened that we halted in some
uninhabited place, where nothing could be learned. Some of the cities we
passed presented a beautiful appearance from the distance, temples, high
towers and so forth all looking very white, some mud houses were two or
three stories high and of blue mud color.

At one place, the only one point where we stopped in the day time, I
went ashore to see what was called a sacred tree. A young Christian
Egyptian of about sixteen years, whose acquaintance I made here told me
that the sacred tree had great healing power, and sick people would come
and ask its help, and when cured would drive a nail into the tree as a
memorial. The tree showed a great number of nails of all patterns, and
it must not be forgotten that nails here are even scarcer than money. It
is a live tree and nothing nice to look at, it rises from the ground
about four feet straight and then lays over horizontally for about
thirty feet, after which it turns up and throws out branches. The trunk
is about one foot through and the bark is similar to that of our large
thorn tree. Returning to the fleet I saw a young man lying in the dust
on the side of the road, with his mouth open, his tongue out and his
eyes, in fact his whole face a mass of flies, a horrible sight. A little
girl bent over him, pointed to the sick and looked at me. My young
Christian bade me come away saying it was a case of leprosy. My friend
showed me a mosque and a bazaar. Coming out of the bazaar I noticed
three men acting very queerly, walking around in front of a mud hut,
talking dolefully or murmuring and constantly looking to the ground, and
was told that there was a death in the family. My guide saw me back to
the fleet and on the road asked me for a book, and I gave him one. His
people lived in the place. The fertile strips along the river here are
much narrower than in Lower Egypt, sometimes one-eighth of a mile wide
sometimes only about two hundred feet, but to judge from the crops as
well as the cattle and the food the latter find, the soil must be

I should say the river is from a third of a mile to half a mile wide on
the average from Assiout to Assouan, and very shallow, as the steamer,
which drew about five feet of water, got aground often. We reached
Assouan at 10 a. m. on the 21st, not without regret at having had to
pass such famous places as Thebes and Luxor. We camped quite close to
Thebes and there were guides waiting with candles to show us over the
place but we had no time to spare and so were not permitted to wander

We landed two miles below the city at Assouan the lower end of the track
of the seven mile railway to Shellal passing behind Assouan. This
railway is built to portage over the first cataract. Opposite Assouan,
we passed the camp of the Black Watch. At Shellal, a steamer with forty
whalers in tow received us and started at once towards Wady Halfa. We
camped two or three miles above Shellal and were therefore deprived of
any sight of the first cataract. Our fifty-six Caughnawaga Indians were
given eight boats, which were towed four abreast and ten long, this was
the first time we got into the boats. We soon made use of the awning
provided for each. The country along the river here is all rock and as I
was told, back of the rock all sand. Doctor Neilson informed me that we
were now about crossing into the tropics. The natives here are
considerably darker than the Egyptians and better built men. They were
dressed similarly to the Egyptians. A navy pinnace overhauled us here
bringing Abbe Bouchard who had stayed behind in Cairo. We went a good
distance before we again met cultivated land and then only in strips,
some of which were not twenty feet wide and they were utilized every
inch. The natives follow the falling river with cultivation, as I
discovered when coming back a little over three months afterwards, when
I found crops of beans from one inch to a foot long, growing where there
had been water. We passed miles of barren rock and then again narrow
strips and altogether the country was poorer than Upper Egypt.
Occasionally we would see a few date trees along the river and now and
then a small mud-built village. Irrigation was going on the same as
below, both by hand and by ox-power. We reached Korosko on the 24th of
October the steamer was run with the bow on the shore, but the boats
towed too far from shore for us to get out.

Korosko is a small fort occupied by both English and Egyptian soldiers.
The river banks around are fifteen to twenty feet high. From my whaler I
could see a small building near the beach with a sign over the door
marked "poste Keden" Post office. We left Korosko after an hour's
stoppage and beached in good season, to give us a chance to cook supper.
At every night's camp we unavoidably did more or less damage to the
crops, which must have caused serious loss to these poor people by whom,
as I said before, every inch of the spare soil is utilized. We got under
way at sunrise. The river up this far from Assouan is a series of very
straight stretches from five to fifteen miles in length with no
difficult bends and good for navigation everywhere. The current varys
from three to five miles an hour. During this day I noticed a small
screw tug bearing a foresail coming after us and trying hard to reach
us. It proved to be a press steamer having on board the correspondent of
an English paper, an engineer and a native pilot. They ran short of coal
and wanted a tow, and all the coal they had left when reaching us, a man
could have put in his vest pocket. We beached this night on the west
side close to a temple, cut, as it appeared to me into the solid rock.
Being called to receive stores and cholera belts for the men I was
prevented from joining an exploring party, that set out, and was told,
when the boys came back, that I had missed something worth seeing. I
learnt afterwards that this place was Abu-Simbel, where there are two
temples cut out of the rock which are said to be the oldest specimens of
architecture in the world. The boys said they had seen stone figures of
men with toes three feet long and I dare say they were not far out, as I
learnt there are four seated figures in front of the largest temple
supposed to represent Rameses the Great, which are sixty five feet in
height. I was sorry that I had to stay behind to look after the stores.
Talking about cholera belts, everybody engaged in the British service in
Egypt had to wear these belts, soldiers and voyageurs were supplied with
them and required to wear them. They are strips of flannel twelve or
fifteen inches wide, and I was told by soldiers who had served in Egypt
some time, that they are very effective in preventing cholera and



Next day, Sunday the 26th at 5 p. m. we arrived at Wady Halfa. The
weather was still the same as ever since we landed at Alexandria, not a
cloud, not uncomfortably warm, but warm enough. A steam tug came out
from Wady Halfa and brought orders for us to proceed as far as the river
was navigable for the steamer. This brought us about four miles above
Wady Halfa where the tow was disbanded. The boats then proceeded another
mile and we camped. During this mile we had the first opportunity to
work the boats, (still all light) and that evening the opinions about
them varied greatly.

No sooner were our tents pitched than Lord Wolseley arrived. He shook
hands with some, exchanged a few words with our commander, Colonel
Denison, and was off again. We found here about a hundred whalers
waiting for us. We were at the foot of the second cataract and the
following morning were ordered to take the light boats up the cataract
to the first naval camp, about three miles distant, to make one trip and
if possible two. Seven men took one boat and all the crews made two
trips, some getting through early, some late.

The first trip I made, I took a different channel from those who started
before. I stepped the two masts with which the boat was provided and
used the sails and the six oars only, the wind being as usual from the
north. We needed all our resources but we reached the camp in good time.
We walked back the three miles took another boat and tried the channel
generally taken, it being apparently the shortest route. I had to use
the tow-line at one place where there was a "gate" or channel, as we say
in Canada, with about three feet of a fall, about eighteen feet wide
and a good standing place to tow from. Right there was stationed our
acquaintance, the reporter, in his little tug moored above the gate. One
of the voyageurs while wading must have stepped into some seam, he
jumped quickly back into his boat, leaving behind his moccasin and said
he was bitten by a crocodile, which all of us were kind enough to
believe and we advised him not to wade any more. All had accomplished
their task in the evening and come back to our camp. Soon afterwards
General Sir Evelyn Wood arrived and went towards Colonel Denison's tent.
I heard my name called by my officer and went before the General who
demanded the number of my men and wanted to see them. Getting the men in
line, the General asked me if they spoke English and I said they spoke
enough for boating purposes, but no more. The General then left. After
supper I was informed by my officer that I had to take thirty-five men
with me and go about a hundred miles up the river.

Here commences the second railway of the river route, about thirty miles
long, and the first train on the following morning brought Lord Wolseley
on his way to the front. The second train had on board, Col. Alleyne,
Lord Avonmore, Capt. Moore, Lieut. Perry and Lieut. C. R. Orde. This
train took me and my men on and stopped at Gemai where we found several
boats which had been portaged on cars. We pitched tents and did not
leave until 10 o'clock the next morning, October 29th. I picked crews as
nearly equal as I could, with a captain to each and started with six
boats, nearly light, only the five officers and their luggage on board.
I had the honor to start in boat No. 1 with Col. Alleyne on board, the
officers taking a boat each of different numbers, reached Sarras about 5
p. m. a distance of eighteen miles. The river here is very narrow, in
some places about a thousand feet and the current very swift. I had to
get a line out only once. At Sarras each boat took on nearly two tons of
ammunition and stores, also additional passengers. We proceeded two
miles up and camped. There were many islands and rocks both in sight and
sunken, but room enough to go anywhere. The shores are barren rock.
Starting next day with a light breeze, I soon found that I wanted more
wind to proceed under sail as the current grew swifter and my boat had
now on board, besides Col. Alleyne, his servant, his interpreter, one
corporal and one native swimmer, then myself with five men and about two
tons of freight. This was the time to find out what we could do with our
boats, the north wind had freshened, which gave us more speed and with
the help of five good oars we dodged the swift currents, catching eddies
and after two hours trial the captains congratulated each other upon
being masters of the situation. We soon began to race, each captain
using his own judgment as to which channel to take, which gave each a
chance to be ahead or behind according to his luck. When I signalled for
dinner all headed for shore and it was here that Louis Capitaine was so
unaccountably lost, within sixty feet from shore. Louis had the bow oar
in Peter January's boat and he rose when nearing shore. While standing
in the bow he fell over, the headway of the boat made the distance a
hundred feet before he was seen to rise. Lieut. Perry threw a
life-preserver and ordered the Arab swimmer, which this boat carried, to
assist him, the swimmer jumped immediately and swam towards the spot but
Louis disappeared before assistance reached him. My boat was about sixty
yards behind Peter's boat coming up in the eddy behind a rock. When
striking the current I noticed Louis' helmet and the Arab swimmer. We
went ashore to prepare dinner and I really believe that Colonel Alleyne,
the officer in charge of this convoy, felt so badly about this accident,
that he did not take anything. He hired natives to search for the body
and give it decent burial, if found. After dinner we proceeded with one
man short. The water not being so bad we made the Semnah cataract that
afternoon. This cataract was thought the worst in the whole route.
Colonel Alleyne showed me up to the gate and said "now everything is
yours." It must be understood that this gate does by no means reach
across the river. The river is about 1000 feet wide here and the gate
situated between the east shore and an island is about twenty feet wide.
Not being sure of the water I tried a light boat first. I took boat No.
1 through without any trouble, but would not trust the full load on any
boat. We all lightened somewhat and passed the six boats through with
tow lines inside of an hour. The freight we had left was portaged by
camels. We reloaded and started under sail four miles up in smooth water
and camped. Colonel Alleyne held an inquest that night on Louis
Capitaine's death and despatched a man to the nearest telegraph station
with the news of his death. A few weeks after this despatch was sent,
Colonel Kennedy showed me a copy of the Ottawa _Free Press_, in which
the _Free Press_ made free indeed reporting Captain Louis Jackson as
drowned. All the captains appeared pleased with their boats, talking
about who made the best run and each boasting to have the best boat.
From this cataract to the next one above, at Ambigol, is counted
seventeen miles, which stretch proved much the same as below Semnah
cataract; plenty of dodging and crossing the stream to get the side of
the river with the lesser current, the boats being such good travellers
and answering their helms so well with a stiff breeze, we found
ourselves in a genuine boatman's paradise. In spite of the free wind we
had all day, we had to get lines out and track several times. We camped
on an island about a mile below Ambigol cataract. In the evening the
captains argued as to which of them had run the most on sandbanks. These
sand shoals are formed behind large rocks in a manner never seen in our
own waters, and it was strange to notice that like situated rocks would
not alike accumulate sand, some had shoals behind them and some had
none, still all showed the same eddy on the water surface, and the water
being muddy we could not tell which to trust and so gave them all wider
berths in future.

[Illustration: CATARACT OF AMBIGOL.]

The following day, the 1st of November we reached the post of Ambigol
about 8 a. m. We found this cataract different from Semnah cataract.
This has no "gate" but a very crooked channel, swift current and very
bad tracking. It required the combined force of thirty-five men to pull
one boat with its full load. The cataract is one mile long and the
roughest part is at the foot and at the head. It was in this mile of the
route that afterwards three white men were lost. We got through this
cataract about noon and cooked dinner just above it. It must be
remembered that the route was entirely unknown to us all and that we had
to find our channels and often did not take the best one. From this out
I ordered my captains to take a different channel each, there being so
many, so as to find the best one for future purposes. The boats being so
equally matched, we could easily tell who had the wrong channel, for he
was soon left astern. The officer in charge, Col. Alleyne, who is
himself an experienced boatman, was so well pleased with our progress
that he never interfered but left it all to us. It must also not be
forgotten that the boys had been forty days travelling, doing no hard
work, before we took the boats and by this time their hands were very
sore. The rocky shores were so bold that poles could only be of use in
keeping off and it was impossible to assist by shoving ahead.

To say a word about the boats now, we all had come to the conclusion
that the boats and outfit were well devised for the service so far. We
had tried them now in various ways; we had sailed against a swift
current with a beam wind, where a flat bottom would have had to be towed
with lines, and the more this towing could be avoided the better it was
on account of the fearful track along the shore. The boats were
sufficiently strong for all necessary handling and in case of accident,
they were light enough to be brought ashore and turned over for repairs
without extra help. More difficult it was to find a good place on the
shore where to haul a boat out. The boats were provided with two sails
each, a sample of which (sails) I have brought home with me.

We camped next on Tangur island and the following day the 2nd of
November, we started to face the Tangur cataract. The wind being very
strong in our favor we tried to dodge behind the many islands, but had
to give up sailing in many places and get the lines out. We overcame
this cataract without much difficulty. Above the cataract it was
considered smooth water for about one mile when a very bad stretch was
met with about half a mile long. The river here is about quarter of a
mile wide, and full of large rocks between which the water came down
very "wicked" in channels of about sixty feet wide and some wider. I
again ordered each captain to pick his own channel, and having a strong
breeze and all oars working we managed to get above. In this place I
discovered by experience that what we had found to be the best channel
on that day, was the worst a few days after. The water falling six
inches to a foot every day, continually changed the rapids, making a bad
place better and a good place bad. Above this cataract we had thirteen
miles of what we called smooth water with a current of from three to
five miles an hour. I had noticed in coming up that the country was
inhabited, having seen a few Arabs now and then. We reached the foot of
Akaska cataract that evening. On landing, the boat, which carried Lord
Avonmore, got stove in when His Lordship took the tools and proved
himself quite a carpenter. Here also were seen some useful stretches of
beach under cultivation, but these were getting few and far between.

Next day, the 3rd November, we faced the Akaska cataract, we were
getting used to the river and therefore this cataract proved to be the
easiest so far. Between Akaska and the foot of Dal cataract there are
nine miles of good navigation, and the greater part of the beach is
useful, this stretch looking altogether better and less wild. We reached
the foot of Dal about noon. Dal cataract is said to be five miles long.
In this cataract I saw for the first time, small willow trees on the
islands. We went about half a mile up with sails and oars, when we had
to track for quite a distance. In this rapid it happened for the first
time that we came to a halt, not knowing how to proceed. We had crossed
on to an island not having water enough in the little channel between
this island and the shore, but found at the head of the island the water
rough and the current too strong to pull against and could not proceed
without a line to the mainshore. It was here that the foresight of
Colonel Alleyne, proved of value. Our Arab swimmer managed to carry the
tow line to the shore, where he made fast and we pulled ourselves up,
carrying the end of the tow line of the next boat, which carried the
next line and so on until the six boats were up. Half a mile further on
we came to a place where it was impossible to proceed on this side of
the river, there being no place for the men to stand and pull, the water
made a kind of a fall, and it was altogether a singular place. We had to
try the other side of the river. In crossing we met with many rocks and
one island which offered so many favorable eddies, that we rather
gained than lost ground. The river here is about three-quarters of a
mile wide. On the west shore we found good tracking for about a quarter
of a mile, when again the services of our swimmer were required. Finding
ourselves on an island, Colonel Alleyne being an experienced boatman
said we had done enough for that day and we camped.

On Tuesday, November 4th, we started again with sails and oars. The
river being full of islands we had not the same difficulty as the day
before, and we reached Sarkametto about 10 a. m., well pleased to find
ourselves at the head of these last four cataracts and congratulated
ourselves on having brought the first six boats of the Expedition so

Next morning I received orders to go down with four boats, which order
rather disappointed me, as I had expected to go through to Dongola. I
found out that our trip was a trial only. I took all hands into the four
boats, the officers also coming aboard, and left at 9 a. m.

Now came the tug of war, the shooting of all the cataracts. Coming up we
used all eddies, now we had to avoid them, coming up also if unable to
proceed we could draw back and try another channel, now, everything
depended on quick judgment and prompt action, the more so as keel boats
are not considered fit for rapid work. I ordered my captains to follow
at such distances as to give them time to avoid following should the
leading boat err in the choice of channel. After shooting the Dal
cataract all safe I asked my captains how the boats behaved. All agreed
that they were slow in answering their helm and required close
watching. Travelling between the cataracts against a strong headwind was
slow work and we longed for the next one to get along faster. Shooting
the Dal, there had been much dodging of rocks and islands, which gave
some excitement. In Akaska cataract we discovered a smooth, straight
channel in the middle of the river and not very long.

This shooting of the rapids was a surprise to the Egyptian soldiers, a
number of whom were stationed at every cataract. The natives came
rushing out of their huts with their children, goats and dogs and stood
on the beach to see the North American Indian boatmen. I had more
leisure now to look round. I have not seen the place yet where I would
care to settle down.

The next cataract is Tangur, which I considered the most dangerous of
all for shooting. The river is wide and there are many islands and
rocks, the rocks are high, and there are many channels to choose from,
and as I had noticed coming up, many of these channels are too crooked
for shooting especially with a keel boat, all of which makes this rapid,
a dangerous one to shoot. The rocks hide each other and if you clear the
first one you find yourself close on the other. A narrow escape I had on
the east side of Tangur island. The boat following me had taken a sheer
and was obliged to take another channel, which having a swifter current
than the one I had taken, brought this boat up with me below the rock so
close as nearly to cause a disaster.

Colonel Alleyne ordered lunch near the place, where the steamer Gizeh
was wrecked. We could see her high and dry on the rock, where she had
laid some time as I was told. After lunch we started for Ambigol
cataract. On our way we met several large nuggars with their peculiar
sails, going at good speed. These nuggars never track but go up with a
strong breeze. We shot Ambigol cataract between three and four o'clock
and met five whalers at the foot of it. Colonel Alleyne ordered me to go
ashore to speak to them. They were manned by Royal Engineers with
foreman Graham and his voyageurs. We started again downwards and made
Semnah cataract after sunset shortly before dark. Shooting Semnah gate,
finished our day's work and we camped. We had made this day 61 miles.

           Dal cataract                          5 miles.
  From the foot of Dal to the head of Akaska     9   "
           Akaska cataract                       1   "
  From the foot of Akaska to Tangur             14   "
           Tangur cataract                       3   "
  From the foot of Tangur to Ambigol             9   "
           Ambigol cataract                      1   "
  From the foot of Ambigol to Semnah            17   "
           Semnah cataract                       2   "
                                                61   "

This day's experience decided my opinion about the boats. Many of my men
had been portaging on the Ottawa for different lumber firms and all
agreed with me, that whilst the Nile river boats would have been of no
use on the Ottawa, they could not be improved upon for the Nile service
on account of the nature of the river. For the ascents of the river as
well as the cataracts, the sailing qualities of the boats were all
important, and when towed by line the keel would give a chance to shoot
out into the current to get round rocks, where a flat bottom would have
followed the line broadside and fetched up against the rock. In shooting
the cataracts the boats did not answer the helm as quickly as would flat
bottoms, but this drawback was not sufficient to condemn the keel.

Next day, Thursday, November 6th, we ran some more swift water to
Sarras, nine miles below foot of Semnah. We met there thirty whalers
with troops and stores ready to ascend. Colonel Denison asked me to give
him one man to act as pilot, so I gave him Mathias Hill, an Iroquois.
Colonel Denison went up with this fleet.

Most of the Canadian voyageurs asked me how I found the Rapids. I told
them that I had no trouble, considering it unadvisable to give a minute
description, as I had already discovered how the fast falling water
daily changed the appearance of the river, and what was a good place for
me to go up, would be bad now, whilst a bad place might be better. I was
well aware that these voyageurs would have more trouble than I had. They
had not only larger loads but soldier crews, whilst I had my Caughnawaga
boys with whom I had worked from youth up and who promptly caught at a
sign from me, while the soldiers had to be talked to, and, although
having the best of will, could not always comprehend the situation.

After thirty whalers had started, I was informed by Lord Avon more
of the order to camp. Next day the 7th November, another fleet of
twenty-eight boats started, for which Lord Avonmore asked me a pilot.
I gave him John Bruce of St. Regis.

The following day, the 8th, Lord Avonmore requested of me seven men and
a foreman, to go with him up to the Dal cataract to be stationed there,
owing probably, as I thought to myself, that Col. Alleyne considered
the Dal the most difficult. I pointed out Peter Canoe as the most
experienced boatman I had, and as he does not speak English, James Deer
went as their interpreter. I received orders for myself to go down with
the rest of my men to Gemai. At Gemai I found twenty-three light boats
manned by Dongolese. Placing a captain in each boat we started, but were
disappointed to find that these men had never seen a boat nor used an
oar. With the help of the usual north wind we managed to ascend in good
time to Sarras. On the way up we had to teach one man to steer and then
go round to each man and teach him to row. Neither understanding one
word of the other's language, this was a terrible task. I had however,
been long enough in contact with English military discipline by this
time, to know that there was no backing out. We loaded at Sarras and
proceeded up with Lieut. C. R. Orde as Commander of this convoy, who
had an interpreter with him. Without the latter it would have been
impossible to get along; as it was, some accidents could not be avoided.
Our new commander being an experienced boatman as well as a good
carpenter, and a gentleman we managed to keep up with the other fleets.
To give an idea of the trouble we had, I need only say that these
Dongolese generally understood just the contrary of what they were
ordered to do. They would pull hard when asked to stop or stop pulling
at some critical place when hard pulling was required. Lieut. Orde as
well as myself were continually patching boats on account of these
fellows. We made the nine miles from Sarras to Semnah in just six days,
whereas we had travelled before at the rate of seventy miles in five
days. At Semnah Lieut. Orde reported to Commander Hammill, R. N., in
charge of Semnah cataract, Commander Hammill informed me that my plan of
ascending Semnah gate was adopted by all the others, he also asked me if
I thought I should be able to make boatmen of the Dongolese, I told him
I was discouraged and the only consolation I had was that my Dongolese
convoy was still travelling as fast as the other fleets in spite of my
strict orders always to give the right of way to boats manned by
soldiers and to avoid retarding them in the cataracts.

Reaching Ambigol November 19th, during this day I was requested to
assist in pulling off a steam pinnace which had run on the rocks and
filled, blocking the small channel for steamers to ascend. I having 175
Dongolese with my Caughnawaga boys and about 200 Egyptian soldiers they
parted the hawser on the first pull, while getting another hawser Col.
Butler arrived in a whaler from Sarras with a crew of Kroomen, with
Chief Prince of Manitoba as captain. Col. Butler ordered us to abandon
the wreck and explore another channel on the opposite side of the river,
I unloaded my boat manned by Caughnawagas and with Lieut. Orde, went
across, after half a day's search found a very crooked channel which
afterwards 4 or 5 steamers ascended successfully.

At Tangur it was found advisable to split the convoy, Major Crofton
taking 10 boats and Lieut. Orde the rest. Going up some minor cataract
with eight Dongolese on the line, and one young fellow, a little
brighter than the rest, in the boat with me and having just passed the
worst place, a couple of the men ashore got to fighting and the rest let
go the line either to part them or to join and I was left at the mercy
of the rapid for a variety. These men were, as I said before, entirely
unused to boats. They are all excellent swimmers and able to cross the
river at almost any place. When making long distances they make use of
the goat skin bottles they have for carrying water, scolding was of no
use, they neither understood nor cared. I may here mention another
peculiarity of theirs. I had noticed many scars on their bodies, but
could not account for it, until one of them fell sick when the other cut
his skin to bleed him, and filled the cut with sand.

This convoy carried about sixty tons of freight, all of which was
brought safely to the foot of Dal cataract and the convoy was ordered
downwards again as far as the head of Ambigol cataract for reloading. As
I could not trust the Dongolese in shooting the rapids I manned the
boats with my Iroquois and made trips at each cataract, letting the
Dongolese walk. It was a grand sight to see so many boats on their way
up, some sailing, some rowing, some tracking and some on shore patching

We reached the head of Ambigol, loaded up and started up stream. We made
the foot of Dal with less trouble on this trip, the Dongolese having
learned a great deal as well as I and my men knowing now some words of
their language.

On arriving at Dal, I found that this place had become a very busy
scene. Many tents were pitched among which were a commissariat, a post
office and a number of officers tents. Lord Avonmore had come down from
the middle of the Dal cataract, next to his tent was that of Colonel
Burnaby, then Major Mann, near the beach was Sir George Arthur, who had
arrived that day from below, commanding a convoy of boats. On the south
end of the little colony were Lord Charles Beresford, Col. Alleyne and
Major Spaight. Col. Alleyne congratulated me on my success with the

I returned for another trip, arriving back here on the 19th of December.
The same officers were still here. The next morning Col. Alleyne ordered
me to camp on the beach with my men and said we had done enough of
lower cataract service. At the same time the Dongolese, that had been
with me still in charge of Major Crofton, were sent down to try a trip
by themselves. It proved lucky for these men that the Nile does not
scare them, for they had to swim for it on more than one occasion.
However, they proved efficient in the end to the satisfaction of the

While lying on my oars I had an opportunity to admire the passing army,
both officers and men, and their discipline. I did not see one private
soldier who looked more than thirty years of age. The soldiers showed
signs of the hard work they had done in getting up the Nile. Their hands
were blistered and their clothes worn out, but they were as cheerful
and enthusiastic as ever. My orders now were to assist the officer in
charge with my Iroquois in passing boats up the Dal cataract, until the
last boat was passed. I had all my men collected here except four who
were stationed above. During this time I saw Colonel Burnaby depart on
his camels, Lord Avonmore in his boat, my old commander Col. Alleyne in
his boat and afterwards Sir Evelyn Wood on horse-back, also our Canadian
officer Col. Kennedy, Surgeon, Major Neilson and Col. Grove. The river
had now fallen so much that there were hundreds of rocks in sight, in
front of this station, and crocodiles could be seen by the dozen,
sunning themselves on the rocks, Major Mann and Abbe Bouchard with the
help of a powerful glass, pronounced one brute to be twenty-five feet

The last boat that I assisted in passing was on the 14th of January and
on the 15th I received orders to start for Wady Halfa, which brought my
active service in the Egyptian Expedition to a close.

We arrived at Wady Halfa on the 18th of January where I found Captains
Aumond and McRae and nearly two hundred voyageurs. At Wady Halfa I
witnessed the military funeral of a Gordon Highlander, which was a novel
sight to me.

One dark night, long after the retiring bugle had sounded, an alarm gun
was fired. I went out of my tent and to my astonishment I found the
soldiers already prepared to fight. No lights had been used and it was a
mystery to me how the men could get ready in so short a time. I could
see that in a real attack, the enemy would not get much advantage over
these men.

I must mention here a curious sight I witnessed at the funeral of an
Egyptian, before lowering the body into the grave they put a small coin
into his mouth, and I found out, that their belief is, that the dead
have to cross a river to get into the "happy hunting grounds" and I
concluded that the ferryman, not ferrying on "tick" they had provided
their comrade with his fare. Before leaving Wady Halfa, I had the
satisfaction to see two of my Iroquois carry off the first prizes for
running at the United Service Sports, held under the patronage of the
Station Commandant Col. Duncan and the officers.

We left Wady Halfa on the 29th January, arriving at Cairo, February 5th,
where an opportunity was given us to visit the following places of
interest: Kass el-Nil Bridge, Kass-el-Nil Barracks, Abdin Square and
Palace, The Mosque Sultan-Hassan, the Citadel, the Mosque Mohamet-Ali,
the Native Bazaar, the Esbediah Gardens, and finally Gizeh and the

We sailed from Alexandria on February 6th, 1885, well pleased with what
we had seen in the land of the Pharos and proud to have shown the world
that the dwellers on the banks of the Nile, after navigating it for
centuries, could still learn something of the craft from the Iroquois
Indians of North America and the Canadian voyageurs of many races.

I cannot conclude without expressing my satisfaction at the handsome
treatment accorded us by the British Government, and should our services
be of assistance in the proposed Fall campaign in Egypt, they will be
freely given. We were allowed just double the amount of clothing
stipulated in the contract, the overcoats being given to us at Malta on
our way home.

Judging by the stores we conveyed up the Nile the army will not fare
badly, we carried Armour's beef, bacon, preserved meat, mutton,
vegetables, Ebswurt's crushed peas for soup, pickles, pepper, salt,
vinegar, hard biscuit, cabin biscuit, flour, oatmeal, rice, sugar, tea,
coffee, cheese, jam, medicine, lime juice, soap, matches, tobacco.

Whoever designed the boats struck the right dimensions perfectly. Each
boat was made to carry ten days' rations, including everything in the
above list, for a hundred men, ten men with kits and accoutrements, and
about a half ton of ammunition.


Transcriber's Notes: Minor spelling and typographical errors have been
corrected without note. Some Illustrations have been moved to avoid
splitting paragraphs and make smoother reading. Obvious errors have been
corrected. Italic text in the original has been enclosed by '_'.

End of Project Gutenberg's Our Caughnawagas in Egypt, by Louis Jackson


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